Is IRONMAN going south?

We all know that next week will be interesting to move around The Woodlands, but this year is different - in more ways that you can imagine. And yes, the bike course is different this year (see below), moving south of The Woodlands towards Harris County, so many more will share our feeling. At any rate, I'll try to paint the picture from three different perspectives: the organizers, the athletes, and the community. 

World Triathlon Corporation (the organizers, a.k.a. IRONMAN) has been faced with several high-impact events that have tested its core and following – with most being outside its control, including the weather, road construction and maintenance, and politics.  

Politics, new development and road maintenance is the main driver behind the now-infamous bike course drama. While IRONMAN boasts that the bike course rolls along the quiet countryside along the Sam Houston National forest, those residents successfully submitted a petition earlier in the year that the race was not held in their backyards. Compounded with the road work along the FM-1488 corridor where the new HEB will be built next to the Magnolia High School, WTC was forced to look elsewhere – and fast. At least that was the original intent when politics got in the way, with Waller county closing its roads to races, and county commissioners just taking their time.

Map courtesy of IRONMAN - for full map and turn-by-turn,  click here. 

Map courtesy of IRONMAN - for full map and turn-by-turn, click here. 

Mother Nature has also played a big role in the overall uncertainty among participants and the race. Flood conditions and elevated runoff caused the swim portion of the Kemah Triathlon at the bay to be cancelled on grounds that the water was not safe to swim due to high bacteria counts, and the rain prompted the Woodlands Township to (arguably prematurely) cancel the much shorter (but very prominent) CB&I Triathlon altogether. These rain events have caused plenty of anguish and amusement among the athlete community – outside of potential lake issues, the flooding in Harris County made WTC cut short the bike course to 92 miles. And many are just not pleased. 

Athletes have been training long and hard for this event (2.4 mi swim, 112 mi bike ride, 26.2 marathon – all within 17 hours), and the optics from the good majority of them can best be described as "frantic." From the lens of the athletes, WTC has not done a good job communicate these issues and corrective actions soon or fast enough. The bike course delay and shortening has some athletes feel “cheated” – and some are even requesting to be transferred to other IM “full distance” events. However, it’s safe to say that most athletes will go through with whatever the challenge will look like, including the 84 turns that the new bike course will require.

From the community, there’s a mixed bag of relief and concern. New signs are popping up where the race will be held, and Creekside Village and some parts of Spring will now be trapped for a day, while the rural Montgomery county can flow easily. Some will argue that this should have been vetted by the community or communicated with plenty of time, but at least in the insider circles it is well known that time was just not on their side. At any rate, local support continues to reign high in the community - which is definitely good news for the event organizers. 

All of the above written, there is plenty of speculation of whether WTC will continue to hold its North American Championship event here in town. Some will say that it’s time for IRONMAN to go away, while some (particularly retail, hospitality, and business owners) will lobby for it to stay. $150MM in sales does not come by easily for one weekend.

We would love to know what you think!